The Plank

Intellectual Diversity At Boulder

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Over on the NYT's opinion page, Stanley Fish is taking on the newest manifestation of the "intellectual diversity" movement: CU Boulder's plan to endow a Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy.

I'm of two minds about this. There's obviously something obnoxious, contradictory, and slightly hypocritical about conservatives--who deride affirmative action and diversity as formless tokenism, or worse--demanding affirmative action for themselves. (Oddly, this goes back to the beginning. In addition to presaging fusionism, Buckley's God and Man at Yale was nothing less than the first and ultimate "intellectual diversity" tract.)

Yet, as I've argued before, conservative thought is important, periodically insightful, and it actually is underrepresented in academia. I can't help but think that this underrepresentation is a disservice that puts liberals (indeed, all students) at a disadvantage--knowing is half the battle--and endows conservatism with the dissident allure that has enabled wingers to pose as beleaguered defenders of the common man for a generation.

Indeed, liberals at their best believe in the power of reason and open debate to adjudicate between contending points of view. (Contrast that to Buckley, who derided this approach to academics and wanted liberal professors removed.) While this doesn't mean we should ascribe to the sort of mindless "fair and balanced"-ism that leads one to equate Fox News and objective reporting, it does mean that the best sort of education would address conservative thought, putting it in context, at least as well as it addresses Marxism.

Stanley Fish, after huffing and puffing about the very real idiocy of the CU Regents' reasoning, ends up agreeing with me in his last few grafs. At worst, such an endowment would bring someone like Bill Kristol to campus--where he would make an ass of himself, discrediting his own ideas in the process. At best, it would be taught like any intellectual history course, preparing students to grapple with a tradition that they will encounter once they leave school. In terms of the real impact on campus life, I just don't see a big downside.

--Barron YoungSmith

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